Academy of Social Doctrine of the Church for formation to social and political commitment. Encounter of the Bishop with the participants.

I am very pleased to be able to be here this evening to meet with you, who have taken part in this session at the Academy of Social Doctrine of the Church, which the diocese organized in collaboration with the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân. It is also a pleasure to bring these brief considerations of mine to the attention of those who attended the session in remote mode, and who, if they so wish, will be able to view the tape of this evening in the days to come. Therefore, greetings ahead of time to them as well.

The first feeling I wish to convey is satisfaction. Gratifying indeed was the degree to which our proposal was accepted, with 64 participants here in Trieste and approximately 40 in remote mode. These are by no means negligible figures. Satisfaction also because I have been informed that attendance was both regular and continuous, and this reveals a high level of motivation on the part of the participants. We made it immediately clear that this was not going to be a matter of a series of talks or conferences, but rather a process of maturation lived together with a view to concrete commitment and engagement as Christians in today’s society. I would like to underscore this “as Christians” because, as you will have understood during your encounters, the social doctrine of the Church is “the announcement of Christ in temporal realities”. But not a generic Christ, a vaguely humanitarian Christ, a sweetly compassionate Christ, a Christ good for all seasons and whom people strive to drag over to their own side, but the Christ confessed by the apostolic faith, the Christ encountered in the Catholic Church, the Christ who is the Alfa and the Omega, the Creator and Lord of history. Insofar as Creator, this Christ is at the origin of human society, and, as Redeemer, is its ultimate Lord. I know that here you have matured this ‘lofty’ version of the social doctrine of the Church, and that pleases me.

I said above that this was not a series of conferences, but a process with a view to concrete commitment. Once upon a time people would have talked about “militancy”, but nowadays no one uses that word any more. This does not mean, however, that we have signed a unilateral truce with the world. The Church is in the world as well, and, unfortunately, we realize that when the world’s ways of thinking penetrate it. This, however, concerns not so much the Church as such, but rather the men and women who belong to it. From this point of view we have to be humble and always keep clearly in mind the fact that we Christians are often no better than others. This, however, must not lead us to feel intimidated by the world and its erroneous, unjust and often both inhuman and anti-Christian rationale and ways of thinking. The worldly dimension is not evil in its own right. The world is also capable of good, because also living in it are Seeds of the Word, fragments of truth and virtue that each person, insofar as created by God, bears with self. In the worldly dimension, however, there is also the prideful temptation to do without God, or even to oppose Him. Original sin is a sad reality defeated by the Lord, but still at work in us and hence calling for constant surveillance and vigilant struggle. This is the reason why the word “militancy”, which may perhaps be out of fashion, cannot be discarded all too hastily. Life continues to be a battle first and foremost within ourselves, because we are rendered worthy of the salvation earned for us, but also outside ourselves in the community of our peers so that community not have an organization systematically corrupting people and driving them in the direction  of evil, but may be a form of social coexistence that helps people find the pathway of good. In this sense we must all love the world, but cannot underwrite unilateral truces with the world.

On the basis of what happened only a few days ago, perhaps we could learn a few lessons about the commitment that should be awaiting those of you who have attended this First Session, and, as I hope, those who will attend the Second Session scheduled to take place this fall. I am referring to the rally held in Piazza San Giovanni in Rome organized by the “Let’s Defend Our Children” committee. As a bishop and as president of the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân, I gave my support to that rally with a communiqué I’m sure you will have read. What I would like to do is highlight two aspects of that event in order to single out some indications also for us, also for you.

In the wake of the rally itself a heated debate began over the words addressed to the people in the square by Kiko Arguello, the founder of the Neocatechumenal Way. Leaving aside some practical aspects (“it was too long”, “it was about to rain”, and things of much the same ilk that are of little interest here), the major critique had to do with the fact that he had spoken about Jesus Christ, while the rally was supposed to have been non-confessional, totally non-confessional. Many people said it should have remained non-confessional in order to be able to say something to everyone. Almost as if Jesus Christ had not spoken to everyone, and had refrained from saying anything in the presence of non-confessional persons back then. This is a point of great importance. Does the fact of speaking about Christ take anything away from the fact of using arguments based on simple reason, that is to say on non-confessional arguments as people call them today? For what possible reason shouldn’t Christ have been spoken about at a rally organized by Catholics? Did the fact of having done so make it impossible to defend children and the family by using other lines of reasoning as well? In effect, can we also turn this around and look at it from another point of view? Without bringing Christ into the picture are we really sure we can use the so-called non-confessional arguments of reason in depth and in the right way?  All of us live this experience: we are not persons and then Christians, but being Christians is our way of being persons. In addition, deep down within ourselves we are sure that without Christ we would also be persons to a lesser degree. What we experience within ourselves applies in more general terms to the relationship between rational, non-confessional arguments and the perspective of Christian faith. The latter is never to be concealed as if this would make it possible to use rational arguments in a suitable fashion, because, on the contrary, what happens is exactly the opposite. Certainly, the rally in Piazza San Giovanni also had to do with social, political and legislative issues as well, and therefore called for well targeted statements made by competent speakers. Also and above all, however, it had to do with anthropological and ethical issues that, yes, are to be tackled with the arms of rational argumentation, but which receive irreplaceable illumination from the religious perspective.

These observations concern you and your commitment in society and politics as well. This commitment must be assumed first of all before Christ, this being a sure guarantee that it is assumed before your fellowmen as well. This calls for the use of both prudence and courage in using both levels of argumentation, arguments of reason and arguments of faith, because for us these are not two distinct levels, but rather one and the same vocation. We are not persons and then Christians; we are persons-Christians or Christians-persons. When conversion takes place in the life of persons, who until that moment had lived only as human beings and not as Christians, they recover everything of their previous life, experience a sort of anamnesis, and realize how present Christ was also in their previous life that they had considered nothing more than human. What we ordinarily call “human” is actually rendered possible by Christ.

A second feature of last Saturday’s rally we can enhance is the fact that commentators highlighted how it had been independently driven by laypersons and non-confessional groups. In substance this is true. Not that there had not been encounters between the organizers and members of the ecclesial hierarchy during the preparatory phase, or the rally had been organized in obscure silence. It was evident, however, that besides the support expressed by individual bishops, no official position was taken by the Italian Conference of Bishops as such. How should this fact be judged? I’d say in a positive manner, but with some necessary clarifications that may also prove useful here in Trieste and with respect to this Academy.  

Comforting indeed was the fact that coming together at the rally in Rome was a people so deeply imbued with some fundamental ethical and religious values; a people rich in humanness. Somber indeed was the smile when hearing interpretations of the event that had focused on it as a “muscle-flexing exercise”. What muscles? The ones of mothers, grandparents, fathers with their children on the shoulders, or toddlers in strollers? This reservoir of true humanity is to be protected and nourished. It is necessary to return to true and proper Christian formation, as we have tried to do with our Academy, in order to give to this people, which has preserved the true sense of things in such a natural fashion, the instruments necessary for interpretation and action. I therefore agree with those who saw in this rally a turning-point starting from the grassroots. But I draw there from an invitation to organize systematic formation activities for this “grassroots”.

Does this mean that the function of bishops therefore disappears? After this endeavor driven by the ‘grassroots’ does the Magisterium fade into the background? I’d say no. It is the task and office of bishops to specify doctrine, teach it and have it taught, indicate goals and guide the faithful along the just way during the process. It is also their task to encourage if they themselves succeed in being courageous. Many are the faithful who suffer when their bishops remain silent when they should have spoken, and take a stance behind the front lines when they should lead and guide.

Needed in Trieste as well are laypersons directly engaged in society and politics: well formed and courageous laypersons, who shoulder their responsibilities openly and clearly, who listen to the teachings of the bishop, draw strength from a faith lived within the Church, and do not underwrite unilateral truces with the world, because this is the true way to love the world.   

I would like to conclude my brief comments by giving you some ‘homework’. If, as I hope, you will also take part in the second session this coming fall, you will have concluded the brief itinerary of this Academy. My invitation to you is as follows: with the necessary piece of mind start giving some serious thought to what type or form of commitment you could assume at that point. A personal commitment, but also a commitment as a group of participants, or, even better, as participants in the work of this Academy. It too am thinking about a few ideas in this regard, but I would invite you to think about this and offer some ideas and proposal for all of us to consider. I place great trust in the fact that coming forth from this Academy may be something new in Trieste.

One final comment. Alongside intensive formation there is also ongoing formation, and I would like to bring to your attention two instruments for the latter. One is the diocesan weekly publication Vita Nuova, which is very sensitive to the themes of the Social Doctrine of the Church and can constitute a valid instrument for self-formation. It has a very clear editorial line compliant with the indications brought to the surface of attention by this Academy. The second is the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân, the contents of its website, its publications and the “Bulletin of the Social Doctrine of the Church”. By drawing on these instruments and working together I believe we could make something new and beautiful see the light of day.

S.E. Mons. Giampaolo Crepaldi

25 June 2015